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Dishwasher vs Hand Washing: The Sustainable Choice

9 minute read / For your Home

Compared to the chore of hand-washing dishes, our dishwasher can sometimes seem like a lean, mean, cleaning machine. But in an age when most of us are re-examining how our choices affect the health of the environment, you might be wondering if your dishwasher is also green.

When it comes to using your dishwasher vs. hand-washing dishes, which option is more sustainable?

While dishwashers typically allow for the more efficient use of water and energy resources, there’s more to consider when weighing which method is more beneficial for our earth. From your dishwasher’s make and model to the way you use it, some helpful tips can ensure that your dishwashing results in both cleaner plates and a cleaner planet.

Is Using a Dishwasher More Sustainable?

When it comes to understanding how to wash dishes the sustainable way, you may be wondering if hand washing or using a dishwasher is better. If you’re used to hand washing, kicking back to watch your favorite show while your dishwasher does all the work can feel like the height of luxury. 

But what’s the real impact of all that modern convenience? 

The answer is complicated, but in most cases, science suggests dishwashers can help, not hurt. Studies have found that compared to households without dishwashers, households that have them use1:

That would seem to suggest that when it comes to using a dishwasher vs. hand washing, dishwashers are the smackdown champ, right? 

It depends. In general, using a dishwasher might save you some water, energy, and time. But the energy efficiency of your specific dishwasher and how you use it can also affect how well your dishwasher performs—for you and the environment.

Compared to Hand Washing, How Much Water Does a Dishwasher Use?

If you choose to hand-wash dishes or use a dishwasher, you may be wondering about the water usage of each. You can hear the water sloshing around. You may even be able to envision your plates transforming into sparkling-clean specimens. But how much water does a dishwasher use compared to washing them in your sink? 

If you have a newer model dishwasher, there’s a good chance it carries an ENERGY STAR® label—a certification the U.S. EPA created to help consumers identify energy-efficient products.2

For dishwashers, that label mostly means that the machine uses an efficient amount of energy and water per load. 

Yet, not all dishwashers are up to snuff when it comes to water efficiency. In particular, some older models can be much less efficient compared to modern dishwashers. How much? Let’s compare them side by side:

That may not sound like such a drastic difference from day to day, but it adds up. ENERGY STAR dishwashers can save an average of 3,870 gallons of water over their lifetime.

The consensus? If your dishwasher is ENERGY STAR-approved, you’re probably doing more for the environment by using it than washing your dishes by hand. In fact, washing by hand can use up even more water than some older dishwashers—depending on how much time you spend doing dishes.

The average kitchen faucet uses about 2.2 gallons of water per minute. Let’s say it takes you 15 minutes to wash a full load of dishes by hand. Assuming you run the faucet for the full 15 minutes, you’re going to use over 30 gallons of water. That’s almost three times as much water as your ENERGY STAR-labeled dishwasher requires.

Other Dishwashing Factors to Consider

Your water usage can play a big part in your dishwashing efficiency, but it isn’t the only thing to consider. How we use our dishwashers also plays a big role in their sustainability. These factors include:

Is a Dishwasher More Hygienic Than Hand Washing?

When it comes to giving your dishes a fully sanitized, ultra-hygienic clean, your dishwasher is your best bet. This is because compared to hand washing, dishwashers:

Cleaner Plates and a Cleaner Planet: Why Sustainable Dishwashing Matters

As the dishwasher shines our plates to mirror-like perfection, it might seem like your job is done. However, it’s important to take every step we can to minimize the impact of our cleaning. Whether you're using a water- and energy-efficient dishwasher or washing dishes by hand, there are products you can use for a cleaner planet. 

Just take a look at some of the effects all that shining power can have:

So, what should you do if your dishwasher gives your kitchen its own 90s throwback or you simply want to make your environmental efforts stretch even further? Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to increase your dishwashing efficiency.

How to Use Your Dishwasher Efficiently

In a greener future, hopefully we’ll all have more efficient water heaters and ENERGY STAR-certified dishwashers. In the meantime, there are several things you can do to make your dishwashing more efficient and do your part for the planet.

Here are some key things to keep in mind the next time you’ve got a sinkful of dirty dishes:

ECOS: For Cleaner Dishes and a Clearer Conscience

Whether you’re scrubbing greasy pots and pans by hand or cleaning food-stained plates and utensils in your dishwasher, ECOS has the cleaner you need to finish the job safely and sustainably.

For over 50 years, we’ve been helping families help the environment with our safer home cleaning products. From laundry detergents and hand soaps to cleaners, disinfectants, and, of course, plant-powered dish soaps and detergents, our products are safer for people and for the planet.

When you want an exceptional clean that’s good for the earth, you want ECOS. We’ll wash, you dry.



Wiley. Usage of Dishwashers: Observation of Consumer Habits in the Domestic Environment.
ENERGY STAR. History & Accomplishments.
Home Water Works. Dishwashers. 
National Resources Defense Council. 9 Tricks That Save Tons of Water. 
ENERGY STAR. Dishwashers. 
Treehugger. Built-In Dishwashers Versus Hand-Washing: Which is Greener? ​​ 
SF Gate. How to Get the Best Performance from Your Dishwasher. 
Consumer Reports. How to Load A Dishwasher.
Columbia Tribune. Dishwashers or Hand Washing? Science Settles the Score. 
Real Simple. This Is the Best Time of Day to Run Your Dishwasher. 
The Lessen. Green Detergents vs. Conventional: What’s the Difference? 
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